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By Melissa Hayes, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

MEXICO CITY — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered a full-throated defense of the Keystone XL oil pipeline Wednesday, saying it would become a part of a “North American energy renaissance” in his pitch for a continental energy policy to Mexican business leaders.

Christie, long considering a possible run for president, turned to energy and not immigration for his first major policy speech in Mexico where he is meeting with senior business leaders and government officials for what his office bills as a trade mission.

His remarks came on the first day of his trip to Mexico, where Christie pushed business interests — for New Jersey as well as the nation at large — in two speeches and a series of closed meetings in Mexico City. Politics infused all of the events, just as it hovers over the entire trip, as Christie is seen to be demonstrating that he is as adept in a foreign capital as he is at boardwalk meet-and-greets on the Jersey Shore.

Christie also met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Secretary of Energy Pedro Joaquin Coldwell in events that were closed to the media Wednesday evening.

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Wayne hosted a private welcome reception for Christie at his home. Christie took his son Andrew, a junior studying at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Greg Brown, chairman of the Rutgers University board of governors and chief executive officer of Motorola Solutions Inc. to his meeting with Pena Nieto.

Christie and his 16-member delegation, which includes corporate executives, Latino leaders, state officials, and members of the Rutgers board, are staying in the posh InterContinental Presidente Mexico City, a four-star hotel in the wealthy Polanco neighborhood. The hotel, which is undergoing renovations, has a presidential suite and a governor’s suite. It houses seven restaurants including Au Pied de Cochon, an expensive French bistro considered one of the best in the area.

Christie has spoken in support of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline in the past, but always did so by criticizing President Barack Obama for failing to sign off on the project. The governor’s public remarks Wednesday were free of criticism and lacked his typically blunt New Jersey style. He was gracious, but assertive as he detailed his vision for bolstering what he called the “North American energy renaissance.”

And the United States needs to work more closely with its neighboring countries, Christie said.

“Too often, our neighbors in Mexico and Canada have felt that they were an afterthought in U.S. foreign policy,” Christie said, drawing his biggest response from the audience. “Let me be clear about my view. My view is that they should be our first thought, not an afterthought.”

There was no mention of immigration in either of his public remarks, but Christie did speak about improving technology at the Mexico-U.S. border to bolster trade.

Christie is scheduled to participate in a higher education agreement signing Thursday involving Rutgers, though his office has not released any details on the partnership.

While Christie did not include any criticism of Obama in his public speeches — he mentioned the president only once referring to his working relationship with Mexico — the governor appeared to hold himself up as an alternative to the current administration in Washington, D.C.

“In North America, we have resources waiting to be tapped,” Christie said during an event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico. “We have opportunities waiting to be liberated. What is required is the vision to maximize our growth, the political will to unlock our potential and the understanding that working together on strategic priorities and compelling opportunities is the path — the path — to a better life for the greatest number of people both in Mexico and the United States.”

The remarks before chamber members followed a brief speech Christie gave at an event hosted by Choose New Jersey, a corporate backed non-profit that aims to bolster business relations in the state. The event was held at the InterContinental Presidente hotel. Choose New Jersey is covering the cost of the governor’s trip.

During that speech, Christie touted the state’s higher education institutions, existing business ties to Mexico and announced New Jersey is the first state to join a new social media platform — ConnectAmericas.com — aimed at bolstering trade between the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Tracye McDaniel, the president and chief executive officer of Choose New Jersey, and Michele Brown, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, urged Mexican businesses to use them as a personal concierge service to build relationships with the state. McDaniel said representatives from more than 30 companies were in attendance.

In his American Chamber address, Christie called for an end to the 1970s-era ban on crude petroleum exports from the United States, recent energy reforms in Mexico, and the benefits of approving the Keystone XL.

“My view is that we are missing an enormous opportunity when we delay development of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” he said. “Not only is Keystone a major job creator, delays in its approval sends a very unfortunate signal around the world on multiple fronts.”

The governor cited the recent energy reforms signed by Pena Nieto as an enormous opportunity for Mexico to see technology advancements and bring in investment from around the globe.

He said Mexico and Canada, which are members of the transpacific trade partnership, should also be made parties to the transatlantic trade and investment partnership negotiations, which would allow all countries to trade under the same regulations.

Photo: Peter Stevens via Flickr

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